Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wikipedian nonsense

On January 4 I participated in a discussion on a wikipedia Talk page concerning journalist/author Gary Weiss.

The Weiss article is something of a hot potato for many wikipedians, because Weiss is the author of a controversial book, Wall Street Versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments (2006).

This book is critical of hedge funds, mutual funds, and the Wall Street securities arbitration process, as well as the New York Stock Exchange. It is especialy critical of former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmen Arthur Levitt and William H. Donaldson.

But none of that is the reason it is such a bone of contention in wikipedia. The key to that is that Weiss' book is strongly critical of the campaign against naked short selling, because Weiss believes it threatens the ability of short sellers to deflate pump-and-dump schemes, thus providing cover to the scam artists behind such schemes. [I've adapted some of the wikipedia description of that book in writing these last two paragraphs -- but then, I helped edit it there in the first place, at least two years ago, as wiki editor Christofurio.]

Specifically, Weiss wrote passages such as this: "Suffice to say ... that there's no question that naked shorting bends, or even breaks, the rules that govern short-selling. That is not because naked shorting is wrong. It is because the rules are wrong....Naked shorting breaks a window that lets in some fresh air and lets out the stench."

The anti-nakedness crusade is very vocal on wikipedia, and the crusaders want to see Weiss look bad, by for example referring in the article on him to a long-ago and quickly-resolved matter as if it were some evidence of wrong-doing on his part. That is the point that led to the latest nonsense.

On January 4, as noted above, I participated in the discussion, and expressed some skepticism about the value of adding that bit about the long-ago matter. It violates the key wiki principle of "Neutral Point of View" to do so, IMHO.

The anti-nakedness crusaders would not have it so. On the morning of July 6, I awoke to find that I had been blocked from further editing. And then unblocked. This all happened rather quickly, literally as I slept through the night of Jan. 5-6. Someone with admin powers in wikipedia named Alison wrote on my personal talk page: "Hi there. Your account was inadvertently blocked as a sock of another editor today. I have removed the block now, having reviewed the situation in detail. I understand that there has been some canvasing in the areas in which you've been editing and I recommend in future that you steer clear of the topic area lest you be accused of editing on behalf of someone else - Alison ❤ 05:09."

To which I of course replied: "Codswallop. I am nobody's sock, nobody is my sock, and although I suppose your caution is kind-hearted enough, I will continue to make my contributions where I think they are needed."

So, no harm was done, and indeed some good was done, in that the editor who initiated the block on inaccurate grounds may have been somewhat embarrassed into more honest behavior in the future. (Okay, that last sentence was obviously typed by Pollyanna -- how did she sneak into the room?) Still, some lessons about wikipedia may be drawn: first, that the debate over naked short selling is one in which some of the participants are willing to silence dissent and call the result consensus; second, that as promising as Wikipedia sounds (and it can be a helpful first step in research) it must still be treated with some caution; finally, that some debates have more value as entertainment than as enlightenment.

No comments: